Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Travel Another India - Newsletter March 2014

No Looking Back – A Review

I met Shivani Gupta in 2010 when Travel Another India wanted an access audit done for itineraries in Ladakh. At that time, I was just starting out in the bad world of business after having spent about 18 years in the good world of social development. I was very cynical of the world I was coming from and that cynicism tinted everything that I took in the world I was entering. Shivani’s attitude and audit report helped to blow apart the clouds of cynicism long enough for me to see that there were people out there who really made a difference.

I have met Shivani off and on since then to talk about Ladakh but also because I draw from her positivity each time I met her. She is one of those rare persons who is totally pragmatic – she looks at what is possible; not just on all that could go wrong or have gone wrong. Given how critical I am of everything and everyone, this is a refreshing attitude for me. I have been practising ever since, but miles to go before I get there.

I have often wanted to ask her about her life, but have held back out of politeness. So when Shivani posted on Facebook that her book was to be released, I ordered 3 copies right away. When I got them, I read it in one sitting. I enjoyed reading the book – cried and laughed in equal measure. And inspired by the end of it to try and make a difference.

I cannot think of a better way to commemorate the strength of women than to share the review of “No Looking Back” by Shivani Gupta.

The book is about two decades of her life from an accident at the start of her career to now. Along the way she describes how she finds herself, family, love, death and herself all over again. Shivani has written this book from her heart – in a simple narrative that is easy to read. The lack of hyperbole and exclamation marks serves to highlight her life. I am sure it was not an easy book to write – to showcase your life, warts and all, to the world is tough.

I like the way that Shivani has explored the many identities of a person. Too often when we see a person in a wheelchair, her entire identity is reduced to that. It is difficult to think of her with dreams, wants, desires. In her gentle style, Shivani lays bare all the facets that go into making her the person that she is.

When she had the first accident that affected her spine, she was in her early twenties – a time when we all sow our wild oats. Becoming physically immobile does not change her need for all the other things that we do at that age, especially the risks we are willing to take. And why should it? That to me is the highlight of the book – the way in which her many identities keep asserting themselves even though everyone around her tries to focus on only one aspect, simply because it is the most evident.

As a woman from a middle class Indian family in Delhi, she wants what her peers want – to dress up, have male admirers, get married, be accepted by her husband’s family. It is touching to read about the “regular” side of her innermost thoughts. Becoming an icon in the Disability Rights movement doesn’t change who she is fundamentally. And I appreciate the ability to share that.

And as a woman from a middle class Indian family she also knows the need to be financially independent. She describes her attempts to earn an income - in those few words you can see the struggles of so many people. They dont want charity for their disability; they want to use their abilities to earn an honest income just like so many of us. And yet, the unthinking majority that the non-disabled are put up barriers, whether they mean to or not. 

The second highlight of the book for me is her constant positivity. She ascribes a lot of her strength to her sister, her father and to her husband, Vikas. I am sure they bolstered it, but it is her own attitude and strength that has brought her this far and will take her further. In her usual direct manner, she paints portraits of her family as normal human beings – strengths and weaknesses equally. She looks at society, “the system”, the State et al with that same impassion. She gives the benefit of doubt to every one of these actors. Maybe they don’t mean to be nasty, maybe they just don't know. So let’s work on making sure they know! I think many of us in social development need to borrow this attitude. It is just so much easier to get into the mode of thinking other actors to be good or bad (mostly bad), that we don’t make the effort to see any of the zillion shades of grey in between.

An inspiring, honest book that is not preachy – do read and share it around. You can order it on Flipkart – the print version or the e-version.

Or if you send me your postal address, I will order it for you.

If you would like to share this review with your friends, on your blog, or in your newspaper or magazine, please do so.

Update on Travel Another India

On behalf of Travel Another India, I would like to thank Meenakshi Chhabra for all the time and inputs she gave us. She has moved to Singapore to a new job. Meenakshi came to us after the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award as a Mentor. She was soon roped in to join the Advisory Board. Her contribution has been her keen business sense, marketing acumen and attention to detail. She was available for over three years regardless of her already busy schedule with her work and helping other start-ups. She gave us of her vast repertoire of skills but never pushed knowing that a start-up is a total juggling act. Meenakshi was truly an unexpected prize for TAI from CWIA!

Travel Another India experimented with offering customised itineraries based around themes - crafts, history, a river - last year. The fabulous response makes me offer it to all of you. If you want to interact with craftspersons directly, delve into our varied history, simply follow a river or any of your travel dreams, call or write to me. 

Here are some of the itineraries and the feedback from guests.

“Anne and I are very grateful to you for making our vacation a great success. We appreciate your kind and thoughtful attention to our needs and reassurances on arrangements for travel, lodging, and tours. For sure, I will recommend your group very highly to our friends and colleagues interested in "alternate India" experience.”

“Thank you so much for arranging hotels, visits to the Taj and other beautiful sites- and for arranging visits to the heritage walks to see other sides of India. Thanks for taking care us at each step of the way. I enjoyed taking the trains and it was interesting to experience and not just read about 1st and 2nd class train travel.”

Hassan Virji and Anne Weinberg
Itinerary – Delhi, Agra, Jaipur
February 2014

“...fantastic choice of locations - suiting interests of all four of us PLUS was away from the maddening crowds, yet giving our kids a great flavor of India.. EXACTLY what we wanted.. thanks a lot once again.”

M G Ram
Itinerary – Exploring Chambal River over two weeks with a stopover at Agra
December 2013 and January 2014

“We had a really great time traveling with you too! Honestly it was one of my favorite trips we have been on and it was so special to see all the amazing craft people you connected us with.”

Katy Tanis
Itinerary – Exploring craft in Eastern India, Jaipur and Delhi
September 2013

“Thanks again so much for helping us arrange our amazing vacation in Goa.  It was also wonderful to meet you in person.  We would recommend you, Olaulim Backyards, or Arco Iris to anyone in a heartbeat.”

James Pickett
Itinerary – Exploring Goa
August 2013

Thank you all for helping me show off another India to you...

As always, do write back to me with news of your travels - photos, doodles, travelogues, video - anything goes...


1 comment:

Aktar said...

nice to read such a long post...Great work you did...